The background glows turquoise that blends into aqua. Shafts of light break through from time to time. Small objects that resemble leaves or pods or wiggly organisms tumble through what feels like an underwater world.
Immerse yourself in "Eon."
In early September, Landmarks, the public art program from the University of Texas, installed Jennifer Steinkamp’s large, saturated video in the spacious east lobby of the renovated Robert Welch Building.
Like many projects empowered by Landmarks, a national leader in the realm of campus public art, "Eon" is ambitious and unforgettable.
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Now might be just the time to see it, because the campus is nearly deserted and you can have it all to yourself for as long as you want.
Built in 1929, Welch Hall has grown into one of UT’s largest academic buildings. Because it was built in stages, however, it’s easy to get lost. I entered from the East 24th Street side to wander through a labyrinth of science classrooms and labs on several floors.
Far better to enter from the Speedway side: Although construction barriers obscure the entrance, once you find the path, you dive right into "Eon," installed on the facing wall inside a wide lobby floored with cool, gray tiles and brightened by indirect sunlight and pendulant lighting fixtures hanging from a coffered ceiling.
And at 2 p.m. on a school day, not a soul was there. In fact, I never saw more than a half-dozen humans during my entire time wandering Welch Hall.
One high-backed pew offers some respite for the weary art lover, but from there, a structural upright obstructs a full view of "Eon."
Back to the constantly changing views on the screen: Most of the small objects suspended in this field drift downward, while a few squirm upward. Larger clusters form other shapes that resemble breathing wreaths, swirling wads of twigs or spiraling stars. Their motions are more variable and their colors more brilliant than the smaller units, so they hold our view longer.
"Eon" is like a big public aquarium tank or a picture window into an underwater cosmos. Mind you, those were this individual viewer’s strong impressions. There is nothing definitively aqueous or organic in Steinkamp’s art. Rather, at times it feels non-specific, almost abstract.
Despite all the movement, "Eon" is calming, reflective. Austin is lucky to have it. Steinkamp has installed luscious videos all over the world, including locales in London, Istanbul, Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles and Guangzhou, China.
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The Landmarks crew, headed up by visionary Andrée Bober, tends to choose just the right spots for new art in or near new or newly renovated UT buildings. "Eon" really could not land anywhere else in the building. It would be hidden in classrooms, auditoriums or labs. And it would overwhelm other lobbies or hallways.
Inevitably, when the exterior project barriers come down, "Eon" will draw the curious passerby inextricably into Welch Hall.
I mentioned that now might be the time to see it: No noise or crowds or movement distracted this viewer, a blessing in today’s hyper-social art scene. And I would estimate that about 90% of the students I saw were observing face mask rules.
I took the bus up from South Austin, quickly crossed the empty West Mall, steered around the UT Tower that rises just southwest of Welch and entered through the original doors. (I make mistakes like this so you don’t have to.)
It’s a little spooky roaming such a big, empty campus while more than 40,000 college students are taking classes but not always physically present. Yet I do hope some art lovers take the chance to see "Eon," a healing work of art during these strange times.